Saturday, June 22, 2024

Could Certain Jelly Sea Creatures Shape Modern Robotics?

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Scientists at the University of Oregon have discovered that colonies of gelatinous sea animals swim through the ocean in giant corkscrew shapes using coordinated jet propulsion, an unusual kind of locomotion that could inspire new designs for efficient underwater vehicles.

The research involves salps, small creatures that look similar to jellyfish that take a nightly journey from the depths of the ocean to the surface. Observing that migration with special cameras helped UO researchers and their colleagues capture the macroplankton’s graceful, coordinated swimming behavior.

According to Kelly Sutherland, an associate biology professor at the UO’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, who led the research:

“The largest migration on the planet happens every single night: the vertical migration of planktonic organisms from the deep sea to the surface. They’re running a marathon every day using novel fluid mechanics. These organisms can be platforms for inspiration on how to build robots that efficiently traverse the deep sea.”

The researchers’ findings were published May 15 in the journal Science Advances. The study included collaborations from Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, University of South Florida, Roger Williams University, Marine Biological Laboratory and Providence College.

University of Oregon researcher Kelly Sutherland holds a specialized 3D camera system to capture underwater sea animals. The camera is used to visualize salps, gelatinous macroplankton, found off the coast of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. (Photo Credit: Victoria Scriven)
University of Oregon researcher Kelly Sutherland holds a specialized 3D camera system to capture underwater sea animals. The camera is used to visualize salps, gelatinous macroplankton, found off the coast of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. (Photo Credit: Victoria Scriven)

Despite looking similar to jellyfish, salps are barrel-shaped, watery macroplankton that are more closely related to vertebrates like fish and humans, said Alejandro Damian-Serrano, an adjunct professor in biology at the UO. They live far from shore and can live either as solitary individuals or operate in colonies, he said. Colonies consist of hundreds of individuals linked in chains that can be up to several meters long:

“Salps are really weird animals. While their common ancestor with us probably looked like a little boneless fish, their lineage lost a lot of those features and magnified others. The solitary individuals behave like this mothership that asexually breeds a chain of individual clones, cojoined together to produce a colony.”

But the most unique thing about these ocean creatures was found during the researchers’ ocean expeditions: their swimming techniques.

Exploring off the coast of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, Sutherland and her team developed specialized 3D camera systems to bring their lab underwater. They conducted daytime scuba dives, “immersed in infinite blue,” as Damian-Serrano described, for high visibility investigations.

Check out their research here.

University of Oregon researcher Alejandro Damian-Serrano scuba dives at night off the coast of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii in search of salps, gelatinous macroplankton. This salp colony is visualized using green fluorescent dye. (Photo Credits: Kelly Sutherland)
University of Oregon researcher Alejandro Damian-Serrano scuba dives at night off the coast of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii in search of salps, gelatinous macroplankton. This salp colony is visualized using green fluorescent dye. (Photo Credits: Kelly Sutherland)
John Liang
John Lianghttps://www.deeperblue.com/
John Liang is the News Editor at DeeperBlue.com. He first got the diving bug while in High School in Cairo, Egypt, where he earned his PADI Open Water Diver certification in the Red Sea off the Sinai Peninsula. Since then, John has dived in a volcanic lake in Guatemala, among white-tipped sharks off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and other places including a pool in Las Vegas helping to break the world record for the largest underwater press conference.

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